With everyone’s March Madness bracket already busted, you’d be crazy to open yourself up to even more heartbreak, but golf fans, with their 7 a.m. tee times and blatant disregard for the weather, are known for being a crazy bunch. For that reason, thousands will be filling out their brackets for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, which will get underway this Wednesday at Austin Country Club. Until then, here’s our breakdown of the best bets to advance out of the group stage of the WGC-Match Play.
Group 1: Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Martin Kaymer, Webb Simpson
The pick: Johnson — This is a group of major champions, with three U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships between them. However, while their major counts may be similar, there’s no debate over the favorite among this group. With a pair of victories in his last two starts, Johnson looks poised to make a run at the trophy, and anything less would be a surprise.
Group 2: Rory McIlroy, Emiliano Grillo, Gary Woodland, Soren Kjeldsen
The pick: McIlroy — There’s plenty of intrigue surrounding this group. The rematch between McIlroy and Woodland, the finalists at the 2015 WGC-Match Play at Harding Park, should be one of the highlights of pool play. Both men have played well this year, and while Woodland has slowed down in recent weeks, he should still have what it takes to put up a fight. The McIlroy versus Woodland storyline is an intriguing one, but given Rory’s run to the semifinals at last year’s WGC-Match Play, he should have the edge.
Group 3: Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood, Pat Perez
The pick: Leishman — This might just be the most interesting group of them all. With ten PGA Tour victories to his name, including last year’s WGC-Match Play, Day is the apparent favorite, but given his mediocre 2017, the conditions look right for a good old-fashioned match play upset. At first glance, it’s hard to know what to make of this group, but I’m not going to overthink it. Leishman has the momentum to make a run at another trophy, so I’ll roll with him over the unreliable Day.
Group 4: Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Ross Fisher, Jim Furyk
The pick: Oosthuizen — Despite the presence of some players who are in relative slumps, it won’t be easy to advance out of this group. Oosthuizen was the runner-up in last year’s event, making him a less than ideal draw for Matsuyama, who tied for 45th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week.
Then there’s Fisher, who got into this field by virtue of his tie for third at the WGC-Mexico Championship earlier this month. While he’s not a household name on this side of the pond, he does have some match play experience as a former Ryder Cupper and WGC-Match Play semifinalist. The Englishman will have a real chance to play spoiler this week.
Group 5: Jordan Spieth, Ryan Moore, Yuta Ikeda, Hideto Tanihara
The pick: Spieth — On paper, it looks like Spieth should have the run of this group, but things are sure to be much more complicated in reality. After all, Moore is a proven match player who sunk the winning putt for Team USA at last fall’s Ryder Cup, so you have to think he has what it takes to pull off an upset victory. The Las Vegas resident advanced all the way to the quarterfinals at last year’s WGC-Match Play. While we could see a good battle between Spieth and Moore, my bet is that the hometown kid will pull it out.
Group 6: Justin Thomas, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Kevin Na, Chris Wood
The pick: Fitzpatrick — While Thomas has the lofty world ranking, there doesn’t appear to be a clear favorite in this group. After all, the Alabama product has missed the cut in two of his last three starts, including one against weak competition at the Valspar Championship. Thomas is an enticing option, but my pick is Fitzpatrick. The young Englishman has the game to start winning some more big events, and it seems like he’s waited long enough for WGC success.
Group 7: Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Kevin Chappell, Shane Lowry
The pick: Rahm — Fans yelped with excitement when this group was announced on Monday evening — with the top two Spaniards in the world ranking going head-to-head, there will be an old vs. new dynamic in this group. It’s a tough call to make, but in the end, I’ll take a gamble on the talented youngster. Perhaps we’ll look back on this week as a changing of the guard in Spanish golf.
Group 8: Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari, Bernd Wiesberger, Thongchai Jaidee
The pick: Molinari — This group may epitomize the spirit of the World Golf Championship events more than any other — with four international players, none of them from true golf powerhouses, these four go to show just how far the game has come in recent decades. But which one stands the best chance to advance to the knockout stage? Molinari brings plenty of momentum with him to Austin Country Club this week. This pool appears to be wide open, but if I have to choose, I’m backing the ultra-consistent Italian.
Group 9: Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Kevin Kisner, Jason Dufner
The pick: Kisner — If you had told me six months ago that I’d be picking Kevin Kisner to outperform Patrick Reed at a match play event, I’d have said that you were crazy, but this is golf, and a lot can change over a short period of time. Kisner, a Georgia Bulldog with no shortage of scar tissue, has been playing some of the best golf of his career in recent weeks, and I’m looking for him to keep it going at the WGC-Match Play. Dufner is an interesting prospect, but he hasn’t been anywhere near Kisner over the past few weeks. In a group of Americans, I’m taking the South Carolina native to come out on top.
Group 10: Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Jeunghun Wang, Charles Howell III
The pick: Hatton — Despite a relative lack of collective name recognition, this group could be one of the toughest in the entire field. With a pair of European stalwarts, as well as two sleepers from different generations, it will be exciting to see how things play out. For now, I’m taking Hatton, but good performances from the other two wouldn’t surprise me.
Group 11: Danny Willett, Russell Knox, Bill Haas, K.T. Kim
The pick: Kim — If the so-called “Group of Death” is the toughest pool in the field, then you can call this one the Group of Life. None of these four players are hitting particularly well at the moment, so it’s anyone’s guess as to who will advance. I’m rolling with Kim this week. He’s not playing particularly well either, but given his draw, this is as good an opportunity for a lower-tier player to advance to the knockout stage as any.
Group 12: Paul Casey, Charl Schwartzel, Ben An, Joost Luiten
The pick: Casey — Another group with four international players, we’re sure to see some impressive ball striking from this group. With several Ryder and Presidents Cup appearances between them, Casey and Schwartzel appear to be the favorites, but again anything can happen in match play. It’s a tough call between Casey and Schwartzel, but I’ll give the nod to the former. The Englishman has been dynamite against these limited fields, and his path to the next stage is clear.
Group 13: Bubba Watson, Thomas Pieters, Scott Piercy, Jhonattan Vegas
The pick: Pieters — Not everyone in this group is playing well at the moment, but if nothing else, we’ll get to see some compelling long drive contests from these four this week. They all average more than 295 yards off the tee, making this perhaps the most powerful group in the field.
My decision essentially comes down to Pieters and Vegas. While there are compelling arguments on both sides, I have to support the Belgian — not only did he flash plenty of form at the WGC-Mexico Championship, he also had a great week for Team Europe at the Ryder Cup last fall. If it’s not Pieters, consider it an upset.
Group 14: Phil Mickelson, J.B. Holmes, Daniel Berger, Siwoo Kim
The pick: Mickelson — Lefty doesn’t usually show up for the WGC-Match Play these days, so golf fans are in for a special treat this week. With four top 25 finishes in six starts, Mickelson’s form has been relatively good in 2017, so he’ll have a pretty good opportunity to advance to the knockout stage this week. I’m throwing my support behind Mickelson in this group. Let’s see how much his veteran experience can help him in golf’s most unpredictable format.
Group 15: Branden Grace, Brandt Snedeker, William McGirt, Andy Sullivan
The pick: Snedeker — This is one of the weaker groups in this year’s event. These are four players who can definitely provide some firepower when the conditions are right, but as of now, only one is hitting the ball even moderately well. That one is Snedeker, who appears to be the best bet to advance to the knockout stage. The Vanderbilt product seldom slumps and has notched three top 10s in his last five starts, a reasonably good record. While we know that Grace has a ton of game, the South African can be streaky, and his recent results don’t warrant an endorsement.
Group 16: Matt Kuchar, Tommy Fleetwood, Zach Johnson, Brendan Steele
The pick: Fleetwood — This group will face bracket-makers with one of their toughest choices of the week — Kuchar is a proven match player, Fleetwood has been really hot over the past few months, Johnson has the grit factor and Steele has all the qualities of a potential WGC sleeper. However, I’ve got to endorse one of them, and I’m going to roll with Fleetwood. The Englishman has carried himself remarkably well over his recent swing through North America, notching two top 10s in as many starts, including a solo second at the WGC-Mexico Championship. The others in this group just haven’t demonstrated quite as much firepower, but nothing would surprise me.